Israelis, Palestinians join in start-up


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    CEO Zvi Schreiber works in the Israel office during the daily video conference with the Palestinian office.

    - Daniel Estrin

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    The roadside coffee shop, with the g.ho.st meeting being held around the table. The coffee shop co-owner is in the foreground.

    - Daniel Estrin

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    The G.ho.st logo

    - Daniel Estrin

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Israel has tightened up its economic blockade of the Gaza Strip. Today the Israeli Navy turned away a Libyan ship carrying 3,000 tons of humanitarian supplies. That blockade's been in place for almost a year-and-a-half.

Despite occassional exceptions there's not much that's getting across the border right now. Trade's been entirely shut down. Which makes launching a new high-tech startup with offices on either side a dicey proposition.

From the Marketplace Entrepreneurship Desk, Daniel Estrin reports.


DANIEL ESTRIN: They call their company the Global Host Operating SysTem - or G.ho.st for short. And this is one ghost with a mission.

ZVI SCHREIBER: E-mail's on the Web. Photo albums are on the Web. It's time to have the whole computer on the Web.

The alpha version is already up and running online.

Zvi Schreiber, the CEO of G.ho.st, gave me a tour. He's an Israeli who grew up in England.

Schreiber: OK, so to go to G.ho.st, I just open the website. And what G.ho.st is doing now is recreating my desktop just how I left it. So it's actually opening up [ding ding] whichever programs I had open last time I logged in.

It's kind of surreal. You're looking at a Web page, but it feels like you're staring at your desktop. And all your files are right there on the Web. Which means that if your laptop gets stolen, you don't have to worry too much. Ask Zvi -- it just happened to him last month.

Schreiber: Absolutely, it got stolen from a car. When I went out and bought a replacement laptop, I just logged onto G.ho.st and carried on working. I didn't spend days trying to recreate stuff from backup.

Getting G.ho.st off the ground is quite a logistical challenge, because this is no Silicon Valley. Here in the desert, near the Jordan Valley, workplace conditions are radically different.

Rami Abdulhadi: We are in the road of the Dead Sea. With the smell of the gas from the gas station and the animals. There are horses here, and two dogs.

Rami Abdulhadi is the marketing director at G.ho.st. He's with four other Palestinian employees. And they're meeting with G.ho.st's R&D director, who's Israeli.

Israeli employee: So let's brainstorm a little about this. It's got a bunch of components.

The meeting place is a rundown coffee shop in a kind of no-man's land between Jerusalem and Jericho.

Palestinian employee: For implementing this feature, we need some support from the server, from the user experience.

Israeli: I agree. I think there are two levels here.

The idea behind this unlikely partnership came from CEO Zvi Schreiber. He wanted to help strengthen the Palestinian economy. So he did a Google search for Palestinian businessmen and eventually met with a few.

Schreiber: And I was very pleased to find that there are a lot of good engineers there but very little industry. There's very little software industry there.

But this is where it gets complicated. Israelis are not allowed to visit Palestinian cities, and most Palestinians do not have the special permits to enter Israel. So G.ho.st maintains two separate offices, one in Ramallah and one in the Israeli city of Modiin. They're just a few miles apart but worlds away from each other, on different sides of a 27-foot-high concrete barrier.

Schreiber: You know, ghosts go through walls. And our company name is also an analogy to the fact that you can work through the walls and through the barriers.

Daily meetings take place by videoconference. But when they need to meet face-to-face, the desert coffee shop is the easiest place to do business.

The tense political situation here makes it seem like one of the last places in the world where you would find a successful start-up. But Abdulhadi says that IT is a line of work that Palestinians can actually do with little hassle.

Abdulhadi: The high-tech require only e-mails, coding, using the Internet. It does not require exporting and importing. That means that we don't need to cross checkpoints, ask for permissions to export and import products from outside Palestine, for example.

As G.ho.st prepares to launch its beta version, they're confident about its success. Because when you compare it to bringing about Mideast peace, creating a virtual computer doesn't seem so difficult.

From the desert, somewhere between Jerusalem and Jericho, this is Daniel Estrin for Marketplace.`

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